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Interview with Yemeni FM Dr Abu Bakr al-Qirbi - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Yemeni Foreign Minister Dr Abu Bakr al-Qirbi has expressed displeasure with US Ambassador Thomas Krajeski”s description of democracy in Yemen as coming to a halt. In an interview with in Sana”a, Al-Qirbi said the US ambassador was not successful in his description of democracy in Yemen. He stressed that democracy is a Yemeni matter.

Al-Qirbi warned of Somalia becoming an arena where terrorists and extremists gather, especially if the Somali leadership is unable to exercise its control over all Somali territory. He said the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and Yemen are seeking to hold a dialogue that aims to qualify Yemen to become a full member of the GCC. He said the exchange of information between Saudi Arabia and Yemen has led to great successes in combating terrorism.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh will visit the United States, France, and Japan in November 2005, and said that efforts to support sustainable development in Yemen is on the visit”s agenda. He said relations with Iran are excellent now that the facts about the rebellion of (Badr-al-Din) Al-Huthi in the governorate of Sa”dah and the fact that the group”s agenda was political and not confessional have become clear to the Iranians. He called on the Arab states and the international community to seek to avoid the outbreak of civil war in Iraq and to acknowledge the Iraqi people”s right to self-determination without external interference, not even from the coalition forces. Following are the issues and questions raised during the interview:

(Q) You had warned of the gravity of the situation in Somalia. What are the present facts that give rise to such a warning?

(A) There are two aspects of the warning. When talking about Somalia, the states of the Horn of Africa must avoid going back to the situation that existed prior to the Nairobi agreement. Before the Nairobi agreement was concluded some Somali factions that were politically inclined, some factions were tribally inclined, and other factions were trade inclined. Each of those factions had its own agenda. After the Nairobi agreement, however, the situation became different with the election of a Somali president and a parliament. A government was formed. Thus the states that are interested in the Somali question must concentrate all efforts on enabling the Somali authorities to exercise their control over Somalia, disarm the militias, build the Somali state, and not succumb to the attempt by many sides to blackmail in order to obstruct the return of security and stability to Somalia.

There is also the aspect that interests us in Yemen, namely that if the situation remains as it is Somalia could become a center in which the forces of extremism and terrorism gather. That will not threaten the Horn of Africa alone but will threaten the entire Arabian Peninsula. We see scores of boats carrying refugees who may include elements whose aims are other than seeking humanitarian refuge and whose scores of victims we can see. In this regard, the international community should exert efforts — within the framework of the OAE, the Arab League, and IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) — to enable the Nairobi agreement see the light and to be implemented on the ground in Somalia.

(Q) What about coordination with the Americans in the Horn of Africa?

(A) Existing coordination with the United States and a number of Arab and European states is primarily within the framework of the exchange of information. Yemen does not intervene militarily in the North of Africa and it is not allowed to interfere in it in terrorism issues. Thus our responsibility in that area is how to coordinate the efforts of the states in the Horn of Africa with the United States, Italy, and Germany in order to control the flow of refugees, prevent the smuggling of arms, and watch out for any terrorists groups that may be present in Somalia or elsewhere.

(Q) What about Djibouti?

(A) There is cooperation in the intelligence with Djibouti. That is one of the issues we discussed with Djibouti”s foreign minister during the meeting of the joint committee in Sana”a. The situation in the Horn of Africa makes it incumbent on us to coordinate and cooperate in the face of terrorism.

(Q) How do you view coordination with Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the states of East Africa in combating terrorism?

(A) I believe all the states in the region are agreed on cooperating to combat terrorism. It is a priority in our relations with those states, for terrorism threatens the stability of the region. It is terrorism that has led to the presence of foreign forces in the region, and it is terrorism that has impeded development and investment. All those consequences were among the results of the terrorist action that occurred in Yemen and the region, because what happens in the region has indirect effects on the states surrounding the country in which a terrorist attack occurs.

However, the problem lies in the differences that exist among the area countries, such as the Sudanese-Eritrean dispute and the Ethiopian-Eritrean dispute. Moreover the situation is not stable in Somalia. Those factors together hinder a number of states in working within the framework of one integrated system to combat terrorism.

(Q) Can the Sana”a Grouping (Tajammu Sana”a) play a role in this issue, in view of the signs that Djibouti is joining the grouping?

(A) The Sana”a Grouping may play a role in that regard. It is in fact carrying out such a role within the framework of the founding states: Yemen, Sudan, and Ethiopia. There is excellent cooperation among the three states in combating terrorism. We hope that if matters settle down in Sudan, and that if both Ethiopia and Eritrea resolve their disagreements, then the grouping will be expanded to include Eritrea and Somalia which has shown a desire to join the grouping during the Sana”a Grouping summit (Third Summit of the Sana”a” Grouping for Cooperation) that was held in Khartoum in (December) 2004. We believe the elimination of tension among the area countries will strengthen their cooperation in combating terrorism.

(Q) The states in the Horn of Africa region, including Yemen, suffer from economic crises. What are the incentives for creating economic activity?

(A) The states of the Horn of Africa and Yemen — and if we include Sudan and Ethiopia – represent a human mass of 150 million people. Therefore, the elements for an economic-trade grouping among the area countries exist. There is also of course the geographic and economic structure that could achieve a great deal of economic integration among the area countries. When we look at Sudan with its water resources and agricultural land, and to Somalia and Ethiopia with their animal wealth and mineral resources, and the important location of Yemen and Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden, we see factors which as a whole create a depth that could make those states an influential economic grouping in the world economy because people today are looking for markets and locations in which to invest.

(Q) How are relations with Eritrea at present?

(A) Yemeni-Eritrean relations are experiencing further stability and an increased desire in developing economic and trade relations. Foremost among those matters is the establishment of the Joint Fishing Company which can contribute toward strengthening the economic resources of the two countries, for fish resources have become one of the issues that are of interest to all world countries. We still have differences with the brothers in Eritrea over the traditional fishing issue which was included in the verdict of the international arbitration commission that adjudicated between Yemen and Eritrea. The disagreement is over the interpretation of the article on traditional fishing. We interpret that article in accordance with our view, while the Eritrean brothers interpret it according to their view. However, we are continuing our dialogue with the aim of reaching agreement on an interpretation, because that will alleviate the suffering of the fishermen who are being subjected to a great deal of harassment when fishing in the Red Sea.

(Q) There are those who say that Yemen has opted for the establishment of the Sana”a Grouping as an alternative to joining the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)?

(A) No, that is not true. On the contrary, Yemen”s position in the Arabian Peninsula and its relationship with the Horn of Africa render Yemen a bridge that links the peninsula with the Horn of Africa and enable the states of the Arabian Peninsula to benefit from that relationship in marketing their products and investing in those states.

(Q) Yemen still cherishes the hope of joining the GCC. Will Yemen join new channels so as to complete its GCC membership?

(A) I believe that for Yemen to join the GCC it is necessary for the area countries. It is necessary for both Yemen and the GCC states, with their geo-political and economic factors. I believe the GCC states today are aware of the strategic depth that Yemen provides them. We in Yemen and the GCC states strive for a transparent dialogue over Yemen”s full membership of the GCC. As you know there were views regarding qualifying Yemen for joining the GCC. We were not sensitive about the proposal on qualifying Yemen, for we knew that Europe sought to qualify European states when many of them applied to join the EU. Consequently, what we want now is to agree on that qualification, and how to work together to achieve that matter and define the role, which both Yemen and the GCC states must undertake.

(Q) The word qualify can be interpreted in many ways. What do you mean by qualify?

(A) Look at the economic aspect of qualifying and how the GCC states can contribute to strengthening the Yemeni economy so that it can add to the GCC economies when the GCC joins it, and how we can create economic integration. Yemen with its geography has density in population, and it has beneath the ground mineral and oil resources that are yet to be discovered. Tourism can be developed in Yemen, for there are areas that have better tourist attractions than the places GCC tourists visit. These areas of the economy require an infrastructure, and here comes the role of GCC investments. What we are now discussing with the brothers in the GCC states is the laws and creating compatibility between laws in Yemen and laws in the GCC states, so that there will be no problems in enforcing the laws in Yemen and in the GCC states.

(Q) President Ali Abdullah Saleh visited Saudi Arabia recently. What are the issues he discussed with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz?

(A) The relationship between the brother president and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has a special character, because it was they who signed the treaty on the demarcation of the border and ended a border dispute that lasted 60 years. Their responsibility now is to develop relations between the two countries so that there will be further cooperation and economic and political partnership between them. The primary aim of the visit was to congratulate the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, on his assumption of the reins of power in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and also to consult and chart the future features of relations between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The two leaders are anxious that those relations should be distinguished, not only in the protocol aspect, but also in the special partnership between the two countries in combating terrorism, encouraging Saudi capital to invest in Yemen, and opening Saudi markets to Yemeni products.

(Q) What is your assessment of the joint coordination against terrorism?

(A) The security services in the two countries have achieved great successes and that has bolstered confidence. The success is due to the exchange of information between the Yemeni and the Saudi security services.

(Q) What in your view are the manifestations of confidence that have been bolstered?

(A) The manifestations of confidence have been embodied in the exchange of information on security matters and in the reciprocal visits by the leaders of the two countries, the most prominent of which was the summit in Jeddah between the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Yemeni president. I believe what is more important than all of that is that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia encourages Saudi investments in Yemen.

(Q) President Ali Abdullah Saleh will be visiting Washington in November 2005. What is the nature of the visit?

(A) The visit is within the framework of the brother president”s diplomatic moves. The visit is an almost annual visit during which the president meets with heads of state in Europe, Asia, and the United States. In the coming tour he will visit Japan, France, and the United States. The importance of the visit stems from the talks he will hold with the heads of those states. The visit is also an opportunity to assess relations between Yemen and those states, whereby each side puts forward its aspirations for the development of bilateral relations. It is also an opportunity to eliminate much of the perhaps wrong information that is relayed about Yemen to the United States, France, or Japan. Thus the visit is within the framework of strengthening confidence and removing any blemishes in relations. It is also an opportunity to put forward Yemeni concerns with regard to the economy, investment, development problems, and combating poverty. Those states are among the donor states that contribute to supporting development in Yemen. The role of those states is not confined to giving direct support to Yemen, but also involves pushing international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF to give further aid to Yemen. Moreover, terrorism is a priority on the agenda of the visit for it is one of the pillars of international cooperation, and a criterion of the continuation of such cooperation among states. The cases of Yemenis detained in the United States are also raised during the visit, and Yemeni demands for the need to release those detainees are stressed. We have done that from the time they were arrested.

(Q) Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Jirbani, a leader in the Yemeni Reform (Al-Islah) Party, viewed the Government demand to remove his name from the US list on terrorism as having come late. Will his case and the case of another Reform Party leader — Sheikh (Muhammad Ali) Al-Mu”ayyad — who is jailed in the United States — be raised with the Americans during the visit?

(A) The Yemeni demand to remove the name of Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani from the terrorism list came some time after the name was included in the US list. However, the request to provide information and evidence justifying the inclusion of his name on the list was made as soon as we heard about the matter. Perhaps because we worked calmly, that was depicted as though we had not done anything. Certainly the cases of sheikhs Al-Zindani and Al-Mu”ayyad and the issue of Yemenis who are subjected to US measures such as imprisonment, detention, or the inclusion of their names on lists without supplying evidence to Yemen will be discussed, because we are concerned about such matters.

(Q) The situation in Iraq is on the verge of civil war which could determine the future of the region. How does Yemen view such a situation?

(A) The situation in Iraq is very worrying for the Arab nation. That worry was clear at the meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo which resulted in the formation of a committee of the states neighboring Iraq, in addition to Egypt, to consider what role the Arab states can play, the restoration of security, and ending the violence that is claiming the lives of thousands of Iraqis.

We have seen the action that took place in Riyadh with the meeting of the foreign ministers of the states neighboring Iraq and the foreign minister of Egypt, and the visit of the Arab League assistant secretary general to Baghdad. We hope an Arab stand will evolve and will contribute toward resolving the Iraqi issue. We in Yemen believe that any solution must be based on the principle of allowing the Iraqis to determine their destiny without outside interference, including interference by the coalition forces. The Iraqi brothers must also realize that the present stage must nor rely on the flexing of muscles or on the concept that is based on the wishes of the majority, because the present complicated circumstances require that the Iraqis agree on a formula of national accord that strengthens confidence and respect for every sect and every ethnic group in Iraq and protects the interests of all sections of the population. Then the march of democracy will be easier. The Arab states and the international community must play a role in initiating a dialogue among all the Iraqi sides so as to agree on bases for relations built on democratic principles in accordance with a Constitution that preserves the unity of Iraq and protects it from the partition which some people are perhaps seeking to bring about through a civil war. Once the Iraqis agree on such mechanisms they will be able to evacuate the coalition forces.

(Q) Yemen has good relations with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and HAMAS. What can Sana”a do to help the Palestinians?

(A) Yemen”s position is clear on that issue. The brother president has intervened more than once and called for a meeting between the two leaderships to be held in Sana”a. He emphasized that Palestinian weapons must not be directed at any other Palestinian faction. The Palestinians must adhere to this principle. All the Arabs must adopt such a stand. That is because for the Palestinians to use weapons against each other will achieve for Israel what it wants, and will render the victory that was achieved in the Gaza Strip a loss for the Palestinians who very much need to have a political approach to events through dialogue and for the factions to adopt a democratic line in putting forward their political program. Ultimately, the Palestinian factions must unite in order to end the occupation, find solutions to the suffering of the Palestinians, unite the Palestinian forces, and reach a common understanding that any Israeli withdrawal from any Palestinian territory is a victory for all the Palestinians. It is true that Israel promotes the notion that such withdrawal are carried out as a result of an Israeli wish and are in implementation of the road map. However, the truth is the opposite: it is that Israel is withdrawing because it has been defeated in the face of the Palestinian resistance. Consequently, the Palestinian concept should be to bring about further withdrawals, while such withdrawals must be within the framework of Palestinian action and Palestinian unity.

(Q) A number of Iranian delegations have visited Yemen. What is your assessment of relations with Iran and what is Yemen”s stand on the Iranian nuclear file?

(A) Yemen”s stand on the Iranian nuclear file, as well as on weapons of mass destruction, is clear. We in Yemen are opposed to any nuclear weapons. We want the Middle East to be a zone free of nuclear weapons. That does not apply to Iran only, but it also applies to Israel, because we cannot have double standards. It is the right of Iran and area countries to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, be it in scientific research, generating electric power, or in other peaceful applications.

As for Yemen”s relations with Iran, those relations are excellent. We believe the repeated visits by Iranian officials and envoys to Sana”a have shown that Iran is anxious to maintain its relations with Yemen, and that with regard to the misunderstanding that occurred with respect to the Al-Huthi rebellion in parts of the governorate of Sa”dah, it has now become clear to Iran that Al-Huthi”s group had a political agenda and the matter was not a confessional issue. Therefore Iran is anxious — just as we in Yemen are anxious — to keep relations between the two countries free of mistaken information and influences that reach any side.

(Q) The US ambassador described democracy in Yemen as having come to a halt. Why were you annoyed by that description?

(A) We were annoyed by those remarks because such a description of democracy in Yemen is incorrect. I do not believe that democracy has come to a halt at all. The march of democracy is proceeding with democracy taking root. The assurances of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to give more power to local councils, and for the governors to be directly elected by citizens, confirm that the political motion that is taking place in Yemen for the 2006 presidential elections shows Yemen”s desire to have the international community see elections that are more transparent than previous elections. I believe the US ambassador was not successful when he said democracy in Yemen has come to a halt. Perhaps what he said was mistranslated.

(Q) Will the remarks of US Ambassador Thomas Krajeski have a negative effect on relations with the Americans?

(A) Not at all. We in Yemen accept (another) point of view, and they should accept our point of view. Definitely, as much as Yemen welcomes support for the democratic march, and as much as it welcomes the views and advice that are proffered to us by friendly countries, ultimately the march of democracy and its protection are above all a Yemeni responsibility.